Now that we have moved through the Big Four of this draft class, it is time to take a look at the signal callers in my second tier of this year’s prospects. Of the four players in this group, two have received early round buzz, while the other two are staying somewhat under the radar. For me, these quarterbacks are a bit more scheme-dependent than the others, and that, in part, is a reason why they are ranked a hair behind the guys in the Big Four. They all have paths to NFL success, but for their greatest shot at early glory each of them will fare best in an offensive style suited to their playing strengths. So while I have these players listed in the following order, how they come off the board may simply be a reflection of what team is on the clock when the fifth – or even fourth – quarterback is taken in the draft. Now that we have moved on from the top tier quarterbacks, all players I view as first-round selections, these rankings will also include a draft round grade.
As always, when you disagree feel free to yell at me on Twitter.
Brad Kaaya, University of Miami – QB5
Kaaya is a prime example of why holding out for the next quarterback class might not always be the wise move. Around this time last season, the Miami QB was looked to by many to be a sure first-round selection, with analysts like Matt Miller and Dan Kadar putting him in the top five of their “way too early” mock drafts. For a number of reasons, first and foremost the respective rises of Patrick Mahomes and Mitchell Trubisky, Kaaya has slid down draft boards and is now considered to be more of a Day 2 or even an early Day 3 selection. But I remain high on him, and at the outset when watching his film the initial thing that stands out is his footwork. Crisp mechanics and technique in the pocket are not an issue with Kaaya, and if I were to be tasked with creating a QB instructional video, I’d put some footage of Kaaya taking drops from shotgun and yes, under center, on the final product. He is precise, almost robotic as a quarterback. As a passer, when Kaaya is in rhythm he is up there with the guys in the top four, as he can throw with timing and accuracy to the short- and intermediate-levels of the field and has a very good understanding of the relationship between route structure and timing from the pocket. But another undersold aspect of his game is the ability to deliver downfield. While he lacks the power arm of a Mahomes, Kaaya can throw the deep ball with touch and the general accuracy necessary to have some success downfield.
Two areas where Kaaya needs to improve are keeping his composure under pressure, and his timing on anticipation throws. The latter might be an issue for him as he transitions to the NFL, as he projects best to a West Coast or even an Erhardt-Perkins system, but anticipation throws are a hallmark of that second style of offense. For Kaaya, his accuracy does tend to dip in those situations, and while part of that could be due to the route-running from the receivers, he’ll need to short up that aspect of his playing style. In addition, when pressured either from the inside or off the edge, Kaaya does tend to struggle. There are flashes when he climbs the pocket or extends the play well, keeping his eyes downfield (back-to-back plays against the University of North Carolina late in the game stand out as positives), but on the whole he tends to panic a bit in these situations, and his accuracy and success rates dip.
For my money, Kaaya could step into a West Coast-based offense and play early in his career. I think his processing speed, ability to be very consistent when on rhythm and schedule, and accuracy in the short- to intermediate-levels of the field translate best to that style of play.
One- to Three-Year Projection:
Kaaya reminds me a bit of Cody Kessler from last year’s class, a player I was relatively high on during the previous draft cycle. I think early in his career Kaaya fits the mold of high-end backup, spot starter, but in the right offensive style he can challenge for – and likely win – the starting job in year two. He might be the most scheme-diverse player out of this tier, and as such I think he’ll land a starting job earlier than the other guys in this group.
Round Grade: Second Round
Nathan Peterman, University of Pittsburgh – QB6
“Wait, did I miss Davis Webb?”
I’m gonna get to him.
The buzz heading into Senior Bowl week from the quarterback position centered upon Peterman, the former Pittsburgh quarterback by way of a transfer from the University of Tennessee. (As a side note, we have two situations in this draft where a quarterback won a job and forced his predecessor to transfer. First, we have Patrick Mahomes, who won the Texas Tech job from the aforementioned Webb forcing the transfer to California, and second, we have Joshua Dobbs supplanting Peterman, who moved to Tennessee. In keeping with the joy of this draft season, both Webb and Peterman are being discussed as earlier draft selections ahead of Mahomes and Dobbs, respectively. What a time to be alive.)
Where was I?
Right, Peterman. So the buzz around Peterman down in Mobile was that the Pittsburgh product had the chance to solidify himself as QB5 and make a push for the top four in this class. While he did have the most consistent week of practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the discussion of Peterman as that surefire QB5 took a step back when Webb had a strong Senior Bowl game, and a flashier combine performance. For me, what keeps Peterman above Webb in my rankings is the idea that similar to Kaaya, Peterman is a bit more scheme-diverse than Webb, at least at this point in his career. Peterman is fairly accurate in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field, and makes throws to those levels with a decent amount of anticipation as well. At times, Peterman flashed the ability to quickly work through reads, understand the defensive concepts, and attack the secondary in the best spot for the play structure.
Two questions surround Peterman right now, in my mind. First, there were times last season when he seemed a bit too conservative with the football, playing as if he was afraid to make a mistake. The closing of the game against UNC is one such example, as it seems like he was trying to be too careful with throws and the Panthers failed to sustain the one extra drive that could have sealed the win. Second, while Matt Canada’s offense is very complex and diverse, Peterman thrived on designed roll-outs, half-field reads, and simplified play structures. That might make his transition a bit steeper than others, or perhaps he’s best suited right now for a scheme like Washington’s, which does a lot with mirrored passing concepts and half-field reads.
Peterman has the accuracy to work within a West Coast system, and his processing speed should suffice for that style of play. If he’s trying to transition to a more Erhardt-Perkins style, it would be best to be in the mold of what Washington does, as previously described.
One- to Three-Year Projection:
A tip of the hat to my man Shane Alexander for this idea: Washington drafts Peterman as a backstop for Kirk Cousins, and if they cannot work out an extension with Mr. You Like That, Peterman is in place to run their offense as a Cousins Clone for the 2018 season. I believe that makes a ton of sense and is probably in line with the projection for Peterman going forward. That style of offense is tailor-made for his transition, and Peterman has received many a Cousins comparison this draft cycle. I think that roadmap (backup year one, potential starter year two) is his path to the starting job.
Round Grade: Third Round
Davis Webb, University of California – QB7
Alas, here we find Mr. Nine Route.
Seriously, though, Webb likely throws the best vertical route in this class, and my notes are littered with phrases like: “great deep ball here on 9 route to right, good placement, good job of looking safety off, + deep accuracy and + manipulation” (0:26 versus Utah on the DraftBreakdown cutup); “great touch on 9 route for TD” (4:50 versus Utah); and “tremendous deep ball…whew on this 9 route” (2:00 versus Washington State). Throws like that are going to get people excited about his ability to play the position in the NFL. So when the discussion turned to Webb as a potential first-round selection, there was a particular narrow path where even to me, it made sense. For a vertical-based passing system, say the Arizona Cardinals, Davis Webb is a perfect fit. He has the big arm and the deep passing ability to thrive in a Coryell-based scheme.
But that being said, I have reservations about Webb transferring to another style of play. While his accuracy downfield is impressive, on shorter or even more intermediate routes, he can miss a number of throws, particularly high, such as on hitch or quick curl routes. There are times when he tends to be indecisive with the football, and the ball does not come out when it should or he functions as more of a “see it, throw it” type passer. So for systems such as a West Coast scheme or even an Erhardt-Perkins offense, the successful transition is more of a projection right now than one backed up by tape. Also, he will face some questions about the transition coming from an Air Raid-style of play. While his tape does have some examples of him working through progressions (0:37 versus Washington State when he sees a mesh concept, reads the mesh, comes off it, and throws a deeper dig route) and Doug Farrar recently studied film with Webb to work through his ability to progress to a more pro style offense, that learning curve will still be there.
Finally, one last little thing I noticed with Webb, at least in game situations: He burps the baby. If you look back at the 9 route he threw at the 2:00 mark against Washington State, or a slant route he throws at the 2:13 mark of that game (again, using the DraftBreakdown cutup times) he tends to pat the football before pulling the trigger. This is something he has cleaned up in preparation for the draft, but it is worth keeping an eye on during his rookie season.
I think we’ve covered this.
One- to Three-Year Projection:
Given his (in my opinion) scheme dependency at this point, I think Webb could play early in his career in a Coryell-style of offense, but will need some more time to transition to another scheme. This is why I believe the Cardinals do make some sense, as he could play as a rookie in that scheme, depending on the health of Carson Palmer next season as the veteran did battle with some injuries according to Bruce Arians. Considering that the Cardinals need to find their next quarterback, the pairing of Webb and Arizona does make sense. In that offense he could start on a week-to-week basis early. Any other type of scheme, and you’re looking at more of a two-year transition, similar to Paxton Lynch last season or even Jared Goff.
Round Grade: Third Round
Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech – QB8
When my friend Matt Waldman makes a player his third quarterback in a class, I pay attention.
Evans is a raw talent at the quarterback position, a one-year starter who ideally would have returned to campus to refine his game a bit before entering the draft. But with that being said, Evans is still an intriguing option in this class, and for a team that does not have the immediate need for a quarterback, he can “give you what a Kizer or Trubisky does, at a draft discount” to borrow from Matt. (Buy his Rookie Scouting Portfolio. I do every year, and it’s worth every penny).
Evans is a solidly accurate passer in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field, and on throws such as in-cuts, out routes, and slants, he delivers the football with very good timing and high-level velocity. In the Virginia Tech offense he executed a high number of RPO-style plays, but his ability in those situations speaks to his processing speed and his potential transition to an NFL-style progression offense, as he can quickly diagnose a defense and move through his reads. He also shows at times a keen understanding of coverage, leverage, and shade from a secondary, and in situations where a defense shades away from a single receiver in a 3×1 formation, he knows how to manipulate the backside safety and take advantage of the sole receiver on one side of the field. He throws a very catchable deep ball, often with excellent timing and touch. He’s also capable of making some impressive throws off-platform. In addition, Evans is a very athletic player in the pocket, and can extend plays with his feet or pick up yardage on the ground.
Evans can have some accuracy issues though, particularly when he speeds up his thought process due to pressure or situation. He’s more confident and accurate when in rhythm, and when he feels pressure in the pocket or has to try and make a play in a big situation, accuracy can dip. Mechanically, there are times when he is more a pusher than a thrower, particularly on throws to the boundaries. There are times that he bird dogs routes, and he’ll need to learn to use his eyes more as he moves to the NFL.
I’ve been of the mindset that the fit of Evans in Pittsburgh makes sense for a number of reasons. From a schematic standpoint, I think the QB has displayed enough to convince me that he has the processing speed to function in a West Coast-based offense, but the Steelers do enough in the deeper passing game (such as fake screens, deeper routes with Antonio Brown or some of the other receivers, and deeper out patterns from the WRs or TEs) that his ability to make those downfield throws would be a great fit for where Evans is as a quarterback right now.
One- to Three-Year Progression:
Building off the previous point, another reason why I love the idea of Evans in Pittsburgh is that it gives him a year or more to fine tune the mechanics and develop a bit more before he takes over the reins as the starter. I believe Evans, in the right situation, is a starting quarterback by year three of his career, and a situation like Pittsburgh, with their offensive scheme and a veteran quarterback in place, is the perfect situation to realize that path to the huddle.
Round Grade: Third to Fourth Round